Knowing what to say when a baby dies can feel really challenging because people don’t want to get it wrong and they don’t want to cause further upset. Every grieving parent is different so there isn’t an accurate guide on what to do or say when a baby dies. One of the biggest comments can be “I don’t know what to say” – in my experience, be honest and say that, better than saying nothing at all.
As a bereaved mother some of the things that helped me are:
- let parents talk about their baby. If they are talking about their baby, please let them and please do also talk about and mention their baby. Don’t ignore a baby’s existence because that hurts.
- let parents cry – they need to cry, it helps to release some of the pain. And sometimes they will have no choice, they will have no control over it. Please don’t tell them to shush.
- please don’t try to make parents feel better – you can’t, their baby is dead. There is no feeling better and there is no snapping out of this.
- please don’t have any expectations of how they grieve and heal and how long this takes – there is no plan for this, each day will be different, the pain is raw and physical.
- think before you speak – yes they could have another baby, yes they may be lucky to have other children, no it’s not God’s will, no it wasn’t meant to be, etc, etc…
- please do send a message, a card or a text – it is a lonely place when a baby dies. I treasure the cards and messages sent to me after my son died.
- please ask them what they want – please don’t assume anything.
- sometimes all they want is a hug.
- please don’t ignore them, please don’t go silent, please don’t cross the street because you don’t know what to say – that hurts so much and they will be hurting enough already!
- As grieving parents they may feel low, they may be angry, they may be tearful, they may be resentful, they may not want to see you, they may not always be kind, they may not be able to handle your emotions – please try to understand.
A bereaved parent will be all over the place, trying to make sense of this devastating and painful loss. At times, there will be physical pain, aching arms and a broken heart. It can feel like living in a bubble – the rest of the world is continuing on as normal but it is difficult to connect to it.
Please be sensitive, communicate as simply and as honestly as possible and please also be kind to yourself – loss can affect a lot of people in different ways and you may also struggle at times.
Janine Smith – a specialist in pregnancy, birth and early parenting
Mum to Jamie who died when he was three days old on July 12th 2007